Training and omega-3: the new study from Equipe Enervit

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Omega-3 and training. Equipe Enervit decided to focus on this pairing in a new study that used a group of runners. The results are below.

They were published in the prestigious Frontiers in Physiology journal, but to truly understand the value of the research, we really need to start with the true “protagonists” of this work, omega-3 and omega-6.

Importance of polyunsaturated fatty acids

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (including omega-3 and omega-6) are found in the membranes of cells in our bodies, and they play a critical role in modulating cell function. Omega-6 is a precursor to molecules that activate inflammation, while omega-3 stops these processes. This has some significant consequences, including for sport.

How to measure omega-3 and omega-6

Omega-3 and omega-6 can be measured in our blood. Generally, when talking about the levels of these acids in our blood, one is referring to two parameters, namely the Omega-3 Index and the AA/EPA ratio. The Omega-3 Index is the percentage of total fatty acids represented by the sum of the two most important omega-3 fatty acids: EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid). AA/EPA is the quantitative ratio between Arachidonic acid (an omega-6) and EPA. We know that when Omega-3 Index values are low and those of the AA/EPA ratio are high, there is a greater risk of cardiovascular problems (heart attack and stroke) and depression.



Study about runners in Frontiers in Physiology

The concentration of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in cellular membranes throughout the body is influenced by genetics and diet, but little is known about the impact of physical exercise. This was why Equipe Enervit undertook a recent study to try and shed some more light on this sphere.

Drops of blood were taken from the fingers of 257 healthy runners, with an average age of 40.85 ± 12.17 years who trained at least three times a week (on average 50.77 ± 26.56 km per week, for about 8.63 ± 8.17 years), to measure omega-3 and omega-6 concentrations.

The results from this research, published in the prestigious Frontiers in Physiology journal, showed the average Omega-3 Index value for the entire group was 3.37 ± 1.65, which is very low, and the AA/EPA ratio was 18.4 ± 10.24, which is clearly high.

Statistical analysis showed a significant reduction in the Omega-3 Index and an increase in the AA/EPA ratio as the number of kilometres run weekly increased. By contrast, for other variables, such as age, gender, years of training, weight and number of training sessions a week, no significant associations were found. The increase in the AA/EPA ratio was attributed to a drop in EPA, rather than an increase in AA. Thus, people who train more have less omega-3 in their blood.


running weakly
Reduction in Omega-3 Index as the number of kms run per week in training increases. Amended by Davinelli S et al. Relationship Between Distance Run Per Week, Omega-3 Index, and Arachidonic Acid (AA)/Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) Ratio: An Observational Retrospective Study in Non-elite Runners. Front Physiol. 2019 Apr 26;10:487.

More research

This is the first time a link has been found between omega-3 in the blood and training load. Why this happens isn’t clear. A study in 2001 on a very small sample (only 7 participants) conducted by Helge and colleagues found the amount of DHA in muscle cell membranes increased after 4 weeks of training. Thus, for reasons as yet unknown, it might be the case that, after exercise, omega-3 “migrates” from the blood to the muscles.

At present this is little more than a hypothesis. However, the importance of the health considerations noted above makes it of great importance to determine why the Omega-3 Index drops and the AA/EPA ratio increases with training.


In the light of these findings, athletes should ensure they get large amounts of omega-3 through their diets, with the amounts increasing as training load increases. Yet, merely altering one’s diet sometimes is insufficient to bring back balance to an omega-3 deficit caused by training. This is why an omega-3 supplement might be necessary, up to 4 g per day, based on the measurements from the Omega-3 Index and the blood AA/EPA ratio.


  • Davinelli S, Corbi G, Righetti S, Casiraghi E, Chiappero F, Martegani S, Pina R, De Vivo I, Simopoulos AP, Scapagnini G. Relationship Between Distance Run Per Week, Omega-3 Index, and Arachidonic Acid (AA)/Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) Ratio: An Observational Retrospective Study in Non-elite Runners. Front Physiol. 2019 Apr 26;10:487.
  • Helge JW, Wu BJ, Willer M, Daugaard JR, Storlien LH, Kiens B. Training affects muscle phospholipid fatty acid composition in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2001 Feb;90(2):670-7.

A physician who has specialized in cardiovascular diseases, he works in the Interventional Cardiology department of San Gerardo hospital in Monza (MB). He also works with the Italian national athletics team, through the National Athletics Federation (FIDAL). He was the lead physician for the Olympic Triathlon Team for Rio 2016, and has conducted research in a range of areas. He was also, in quite recent times, an accomplished middle and long-distance runner. His main scientific interests these days are the use of modern training techniques, and studying how to prevent injuries and ensure cardiovascular health. He joined Equipe Enervit in 2015, and was a student of Professor Enrico Arcelli, with whom he wrote "L’alimentazione nel mezzofondo, nel fondo e nella marcia" (Nutrition in middle and long-distance running, and walking).